Have you ever talked to a 12-year old? I mean really talked. For the past few months, I’ve been communicating both online and in person with groups of tweens. No surprise, the online focus groups are much more loquacious, opinionated, and forthcoming than the face-to-face groups. Online, these kids are full of ideas that they want to share. In person, it’s hard enough to get them to look you in the eye, much less voice an opinion in front of peers. We know these are the kids who thrive on collaboration. So what’s up? According to a recent JWT report Gen Z: Digital in their DNA, 39% of tweens feel that their real social life happens online, and 37% feel more comfortable talking to people online than in real life.
Hyper-connectedness makes today’s kids’ world both smaller and bigger. They can Skype or chat or email with friends anywhere and anytime there’s an internet. Distance and time are non-issues for new global friendships.
Granted, the social exchanges aren’t always positive. Consider the prevalence of online bullying. Nicholas D. Kristoff recently tapped into the comfort of confession by running an online essay contest on teen bullying with Teen Ink magazine. He received approximately 1,200 essays. It seems as though kids can more easily discuss their horrible experiences virtually than ask a real person for help.
I wonder: is it a good thing or a bad thing that our kids “live” on line? Is this a 21st century skill that they’ve mastered? Or have they lost the ability to talk with their mouths? Should we care that they can’t spell and use their own form of abbreviations to communicate? Or should we be awed by the fact that they can “talk” to 452 people at the same time?
During his 2012 speech at Boston University Google Chairman Eric Schmidt told graduates (who were ironically tweeting as he spoke), “Take one hour a day and turn that thing off. Take your eyes off that screen and look into the eyes of the person you love. Have a conversation, a real conversation…Life is not lived in the glow of a monitor.”
Powerful words from the Google-god himself.
At Sandbox Summit, we say, “we’ve crossed the digital Rubicon.“ Our goal is to make sure that the tools and technology we’re releasing to our kids still promote creative thinking and meaningful connections. We know we need to balance online and offline skills in the real world. But what now constitutes the “real world?”
There’s obviously no right or wrong answer here. But I’d love to hear your thoughts. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.